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Medium risk fourth down play

One of the things about football that I always thought could be improved upon was the limited options for fourth down.

If it's fourth down, and you are too far away to kick a field goal, there are only two options:

  1. Low risk: punt
  2. High risk: attempt to convert

Problem is, there's a big gap between the options. Roughly speaking, a punt will give your opponent the ball around 40 yards downfield but you give up the possibility of a conversion (not counting turnovers). Going for it on (say) a 4th and 3 is going to be converted about 50% of the time, but if you fail to convert the opponent gets the ball right there.

Right now, head coaches go for the low-risk option (punt) probably 95% of the time on fourth down. That's pretty boring. Having a medium-risk option might encourage coaches to take more risks on fourth down, leading to much more excitement. For instance, say it's 4th and 5 on the 50. Most coaches will punt in this situation. But what if there was an medium risk option? You have a 25% chance of converting, but if you don't the opponent gets the ball maybe 20 yards downfield, on their 30. I think some coaches might try that in that situation.

But what would such a medium-risk play look like?

When I asked this question in rec.sport.football.college, I got an interesting suggestion in this thread: the person who receives the snap could roll out and bat the ball downfield with something like a volleyball serve, and it would be played more or a less like a fumble. I think there would have to be some limits on when a team could recover a batted ball (the ball should not peak higher than ten feet above the field, and would it have to hit the ground first).

The following table summarizes the risk tradeoff for these three options.

Option Risk Level Typical Conversion Rate Where opponent gets the ball if conversion fails
Punt Low 0% 40 yards downfield
Go for it High 50% Right there
Bat Medium 25% 20 yards downfield

Anyway, I'm not sure there wouldn't be drawbacks to this sort of volleyball bat play (like maybe too much risk of opponent returning the bat, or too much injury risk), but a play that could add a medium-risk option to fourth down I think would really add to the excitement of the game.

Tags: football, risk, sports
Permalink: http://blog.aerojockey.com/post/fourthdown
Last Edited: 12 September 2010, 4:31 AM
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